Stephanie Carter | Palladium - May 08 2019
The Power of a Good Story Book: Building a Reading Movement Across Indonesia

Students from Indonesia's Sumbawa Island read a story book. Source: INOVASI

Thanks to its geographical and cultural diversity, Indonesia lacks a coherent, strong reading culture. Many Indonesian children in grades one to three are failing to grasp the basics of reading, leading to a range of learning issues in later primary school and early high school, and impacting workforce productivity even later in life.

Being literate is not just the ability to read words. Literacy includes the skills to:

  • Distinguish facts from opinion
  • Interpret motivation
  • Draw conclusions and integrate ideas and information from a text
  • Find and evaluate evidence to support an argument
  • Analyse and synthesise what is being read and the writer’s expression
  • Explain a reading theme and story

With these abilities, Indonesian children can grow into adults with higher order thinking skills like the ability to conduct strategic reasoning, problem solving, and critical thinking. These are core skills needed for the 21st century.

Nurdiana, a Grade 1 teacher, uses books and visuals to spark her students' interest.
Nurdiana, a Grade 1 teacher, uses books and visuals to spark her students' interest.

A National Literacy Movement

Indonesia is actively trying to improve its national literacy. In the government's technocratic development plan for 2015-19, improvement in literacy is linked to an improvement in national productivity, competitiveness, and character values. In 2016, the Minister of Education launched the Gerakan Literasi Nasional (GLS), a national school literacy movement, and policy makers and educators continue to implement different approaches to increase literacy rates.

At its core, the movement aims to strengthen the connection between key actors in Indonesia’s education system, expanding public involvement in the cultivation of a nation-wide literacy movement. School level strategies include initiatives like an additional 15 minutes of reading before class each day, and the Ministry of Education has introduced new books, modules, and guides on assessment and scoring for training facilitators.

The Power of Story Books

When it comes to improving literacy and encouraging a love of reading amongst Indonesian students, there’s one lesson that policy makers and practitioners agree on: never underestimate the power of a good story book.

The Program for International Student Assessment clearly shows the lnk between reading and longer-term benefits:

"In all countries, students with high reading interest have (significantly) better learning outcomes than students who don’t like to read. Reading for pleasure is closely associated with better learning outcomes, if accompanied by a level of critical thinking and strategic approach to learning."

Every year, Indonesia's centre for books and curriculum development at the Ministry of Education and Culture (Puskurbuk) releases a new list of books that can be purchased and used by the education sector, including subject books, teacher’s books, reference books, and enrichment books.

But what makes a good story book, and which category do they fall under?

Story books are considered valuable if children can easily recognise the structure and meaning of the narrative or theme, if the story has motivation, if it can attract and hold their attention, and if it can relate a narrative to the child’s own environment. And, of course, it must have illustrations. These story books are the basis of a reading culture.

Illustrated story books are not widely available. It can be a slow and difficult process to get books on Puskurbuk's approved list, and the book supply in classrooms is not keeping up with reading interest.

But recently, with input the Innovation for Indonesia's School Children (INOVASI) project, Puskurbuk has done three important things:

  • Expanded children’s reading book use from early childhood levels to early grade primary school levels
  • Added 200 new books to the approved list
  • Allowed Indonesian primary schools to buy children’s reading books with central government funds
The Governor's wife, or 'Bunda Baca' (centre) meets with educators and community members.
The Governor's wife, or 'Bunda Baca' (centre) meets with educators and community members.

Book Requirements for Schools

In the Bulungan district in North Kalimantan, INOVASI is working to increase the supply and availability of books. The district has allocated funds for a School Operational Assistance program, and in 2018 it became the first region in Indonesia to fund student reading books with local funding.

Schools that use this funding are required to purchase at least five new books each year from a range, including novels, story books, comics, and books on history, literature, and general knowledge topics. The availability of these books is expected to foster a reading culture for 24,094 Bulungan students in 778 primary schools and 245 junior high schools.

Bulungan has also established a literacy team to approve books for schools and the Governor’s wife was appointed as 'Bunda Baca'; a passionate advocate for literacy and reading across the province. The village administrations and schools are coordinating better, other organisations are providing children’s books, and INOVASI is trialling the use of digital books projected onto the classroom wall for 'shared reading'. Efforts to improve literacy outcomes are in full swing here.

This is a positive step in the right direction. With the power of a good story book, we can start to create a culture of reading for Indonesian kids to have the skills they need not just for school, but to earn a living later on.

Palladium manages the implementation of INOVASI, which is delivering over 45 education pilot programs across Indonesia, many of which focus on early grade literacy.